Light in a pinch
Ocean Navigator|January- February 2021
In emergency lighting situations, more light is always better
JOHN KETTLEWELL

Routes from Florida to the Bahamas are as short as 50 miles, but they all involve crossing the Gulf Stream and hopefully arriving during daylight hours and early enough to clear Customs. For most sailors, this means an evening or night departure with an overnight sail, which is what we were doing when voyaging from Palm Beach to West End, Grand Bahama. Unfortunately, one of our steering cable ends broke off in the middle of the Stream, with a stiff wind blowing and a lumpy sea — in the pitch dark.

I had a sick feeling while hanging upside down below the steering box, peering at the loose cable end by the dim light of a flashlight. Then I noticed that the steering chain the cable was attached to had come off the sprocket of the wheel! Major surgery on our steering system would be required in order to be able to get going again. Luckily, our catamaran was able to sort of heave-to by going to a triple-reefed main and a rolled-up jib, holding us at a slight angle to the seas.

Our custom cat had an unusual steering box attached to the cabin bulkhead that required removal of the wheel, then backing out lots of screws, just to see what was going on. Needless to say, this would be a time-consuming job requiring plenty of light to see what I was doing. At first, I started out with a small flashlight held in my mouth, which is often useful for small jobs but not for long-term work. I tried various headlamps that slipped off my head as I hung upside down. In the end, the best technique was for my wife to hold a more powerful flashlight pointed at where I was working on the many difficult-to-remove screws.

After much struggle, everything was put back together only to discover that I had somehow crossed the cables when reattaching them to the steering sprocket chain! Turning the wheel right made the boat go to port. I tried steering the boat like that for a while but decided that it just wouldn’t work, so I had to take everything apart all over again. Once fixed, we almost made it to West End before one of my jury-rigged repairs broke again, necessitating an interesting entrance to the harbor, steering from the stern with lines leading to each rudder while my wife ran the throttle and shouted directions since I couldn’t see anything. But, at least the sun was up!

Let there be light

Unfortunately, tales like this one are a staple of many cruisers’ get-togethers, and a lot of these “adventures” seem to happen at o’dark-thirty. This is why emergency lights and onboard lighting are so critical on any boat. Having owned, lived aboard and cruised a wide variety of cruising sailboats for more than 40 years, I have a lot of unfortunate experience with both emergency repairs and emergency lighting. These episodes have taught me some basic truths.

First, quantity is more important than quality with flashlights. It is easy to spend a fortune on macho-looking, socalled “tactical” lights that have eye-piercing outputs, water resistance equivalent to a submarine and the ability to fight off pirates when needed. But if you drop one over the side or it dies in the midst of a repair, it does no good. Flashlights have so many uses that I reach for one multiple times each day. I prefer having three or more of the exact same light all stored together near my chart table where I can put my hand on them even in the pitch dark. If one is lost or dies for some reason, I reach for the next. If the batteries go on one, I reach for another.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM OCEAN NAVIGATORView All

Stay Connected

Satellite phones have evolved a full ecosystem of gear and services

9 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

Respecting Paradise

Thoughts on voyaging responsibly

6 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

Yankee sails on

The steel ketch Yankee in the Connecticut River.

3 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

TRANSPAC RACE PREP

How a group of determined mostly military veterans built a race team

7 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

NOAA upgrades its global weather model

More data and a better global weather model should make for improved weather distributed to users, like this temperature gradient map.

3 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

From North Sea fishing to Sea of Cortez voyaging

The former Dutch fishing vessel turned power voyaging yacht Varnebank in Mexican waters.

4 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

Chatter Chartroom

IN 2019, MY HUSBAND, DOUG PASNIK, AND I RACED OUR first Transpac together with a team of 10 on our Andrews 70, Trader, comprised primarily of military veterans (see story on page 22). This year we are doing the race again and inviting four mentees from The Magenta Project to race with us.

7 mins read
Ocean Navigator
July - August 2021

Doing it all with one screen

The steering station on this Gunboat cat is equipped with large-screen B&G Zeus MFDs.

8 mins read
Ocean Navigator
May - June 2021

Don't scrimp when it comes to the crimp

Solid crimp connections make your power voyager’s electrical system more reliable.

5 mins read
Ocean Navigator
May - June 2021

Chartroom Chatter

Maritime Publishing acquires Ocean Navigator

7 mins read
Ocean Navigator
May - June 2021